How to make your child's transition to Primary School easier

Two children dipping hands in pond

It’s almost that time of year again. As per usual, the holidays have flown by and it’s only 2 weeks until Primary Schools around the country are bustling with children, teachers and parents. For many it is an exciting time, but while the unknowns of starting school can be fun for some children, for others it can be a daunting experience. It can be easy to forget that for a child, starting school means being thrown into the deep end of a new and foreign environment. Schooling is about much more than academic grades (although that in itself is stressful enough). A large portion of Primary School learning involves children learning to establish meaningful connections and relationships with their peers and where they begin to form views of their own about the world and how it works.

Studies have shown that up to 15% of children aged 6 and 7 have heightened emotional responses presenting as depressive and anxious behaviour.1 These symptoms often manifest as physical complaints like withdrawn behaviour, headaches and other flu-like sicknesses. Given that there are around 1.5 million 6 and 7 year old children commencing school in Australia, up to 200,000 could be dealing with these internalised issues. Like many anxiousness based areas of improvement, if they are not effectively handled early, through resilience building exercises and communication, they can progress to other aspects of life.

These tips will help you to guide your child through the lead up to and first experiences of Primary School.

Teach your child self-regulation skills

"Children learn to regulate thoughts, feelings, behaviours and emotion by watching and responding to adults’ self-regulation2."

For the first few years of your child’s life you have been there to guide them through new experiences and events when they have been scared or distressed. With your gentle touch and calming voice you have been their rock, and your child has learnt that others will be able to provide this comfort on an as-needed basis when they cry or withdraw. It is also with your help and guidance that your child can learn to manage their feelings, becoming the master of their own emotions, this is self-regulation. Thinking of self-regulation as an improvable skill, rather than bad behaviour is the first step. Rather than avoiding stressful situations for your child, help support and ‘scaffold'3 them through it, explaining and aiding them to find the right way to effectively handle the challenge themselves.

Help your child build better friendship skills

If your child attended prep prior to their first day of primary school, they may have already made friends with children who will be in their class on the first day. This familiarity will be great, but not a luxury every child has. Organise a play date with other children, or simply take your child to places they will have an opportunity to socialise with other children. Developing social skills like sharing, empathy to others and taking turns will greatly increase your child’s chances of smooth sailing from their first day.

Talk openly, regularly and positively about starting school

Much of a child’s anxiety about starting their first day is the sheer unknown of it all. You can help overcome this by having open and positive discussions about what to expect4. Talk positively of all the new things they will learn and opportunities they will have. Also remember that the day is only so long, but a child’s sense of time can make the school day feel like an eternity. Let them know that the days will pass quickly, even quicker the more fun they have. This will help your child understand that they are not being abandoned, and that if they are feeling stressed about being separated from you, it is only for a blink of an eye.

Attend a school orientation

Finding out when the school orientation day is and attending is important for yourself and your child. For you, it allows you to meet your child’s teachers, acquaint yourself with other important members of the faculty and become familiar with your child’s surroundings so you can better understand how things are there too. Make sure to discover your child’s routine, such as where and when playtime is, class routines and any other uniform requirements. Preparation is the key to overcoming nerves and the more you and your child know about their first day, the less chance of anxiousness. For your child, it will allow them to wade into the shallow end of their schooling, get familiar with their teacher and new school friends.

Ensuring your child arrives on their first day with these skills and tips will allow them to be calmer, in control and ultimately able to build relationships rather than being worried or stressed.

[2]    Florez, I. R. (2011) Developing Young Children’s Self-Regulation through Everyday Experiences.Young Children, p.51
[3]    Using Instructional Discourse Analysis to Study the Scaffolding of Student Self-Regulation, Debra K. Meyer & Julianne C. Turner
[4]    Stress, Coping and Wellbeing in Kindergarten: Children's Perspectives on Personal, Interpersonal and Institutional Challenges of School Harrison, Linda J.; Murray, Elizabeth International Journal of Early Childhood, v47 n1 p79-103 Apr 2015

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